To get a true view of consumer culture, it helps to step outside it. Sobonfu Some, an initiated member of the Dagara tribe of West Africa, tells us:

"People of my heritage don't understand when I explain to them that I have many 'things,' that I have material objects. One time I took pictures of all the things in my apartment and brought them home for people to look at. They just shook their heads in confusion. They don't understand why I would surround myself with so much 'stuff.' "

"Stuff" itself seems to be part and parcel of Western cultures, but over-consumption — buying more than we need — has long been a serious problem for a host of reasons. It emerges from an economic system that's ecologically toxic, puts things before people, and insists that we cannot be happy unless we continue to buy. It mimics and minimizes religion with advertising evangelists and shopping-mall temples. It strains our nervous systems, encourages gluttony, and even usurps our civic life. Political activist and Sojourners magazine co-founder Jim Wallis writes that many people "feel they no longer have the power to change their communities or their nation, only to make choices among products."

We have a long way to go to reverse the commodification of life, but as with all great challenges, we can begin with simple antidotes that reinforce generosity, gratitude, service to others, and a joy that's based in being, not in having. The spiritual practices, blog posts, books, films, prayers, quotes, teaching stories, and more in this Topic (see icons under "Latest Content") help you understand the dimensions of the problem and find ways that you can address it personally and in consort with friends, family, colleagues, and community members who share your concerns. "When you stop chasing more of what you don't need," observes global visionary Lynne Twist, "you free up tremendous energy to do more with what you have, and what you have grows."